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This Asheville Filipino Restaurant Is among the South’s Most Exciting New Restaurants

This Asheville restaurant is really as colorful and varied because the menu. Music blares from the open kitchen, switching backwards and forwards between Latin pop, 90s R&B, and hiphop. Mariah Careys voice competes with the sizzle of the stove. The tiny kitchen staff (usually Iocovozzi, a bartender, a line cook, and a dishwasher) sing and dance along because they cook. The very best seats inside your home, of which you can find no more than 20, are in the bar, where one can smell skewers as theyre flame-grilled.

Next to the restaurants entrance is really a painting by Brooklyn-based artist Drake Carr. In the guts sits Neneng, Iocovozzis mother, done up in ways similar to the 80s and 90s glamor-style photos Iocovozzi remembers her posing for at an area mall near where they was raised as a military brat in Jacksonville, NEW YORK. Iocovozzi (nickname Neng Jr., hence the restaurants name), sits just behind their mothers left shoulder, because the yellow ribbon of Nenengs dress wraps around Iocovozzis arm. Neneng may be the thread that runs through Iocovozzis life, and in lots of ways, through this restaurant. For Silver, she represents the marriage of Filipinx heritage with NEW YORK cuisine that finds its way onto this menu.

The team at Neng Jr.’s.

Photograph by Will Warasila

The majority of the menu items directly correlate to my mom, Silver explains. If it isnt a precise replica of a dish that she’s made, this is a version that I fine-tuned. I make an effort to stay true to the flavors of my mom. Actually, when Neneng is around, shes often in your kitchen at Neng Jr.’s. On a recently available visit Neneng put a Filipinx spin of the Mexican tripe stew menudo on the menu. It sold-out that weekend.

At its very core, Neng Jr.’s is really a space where Silver can celebrate their biological family and the queer one they will have built. Dining here means sitting below that painting of Iocovozzi and their mother, and eating a bowl of fresh summer fruit, or lumpia, or bulalo corn. As customers have filled the snug Asheville restaurant in the last couple of months, Iocovozzi watches on from the open kitchen. I see people understanding the idea [of Neng Jr.’s], they state. It’s the deepest reward.

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